Despite the pause in rollout of its one-dose COVID-19 vaccination, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson is stronger today than pre-pandemic, CFO Joseph Wolk said on the company’s first quarter earnings call Tuesday.
On April 13, J&J’s U.S. Covid vaccine rollout was put on pause after six women developed a blood clotting disorder, and one died.
Wolk and company chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky hope the pause, which they anticipate will end by the end of this week, reassures customers about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. A meeting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel is scheduled for Friday to make a recommendation.
Sales across the board rose almost 8% year over year to $22.3 billion; its vaccine production operates on a not-for-profit basis.
J&J’s consumer products unit, which manufactures Neutrogena face wash, Acuvue contact lenses and Listerine mouthwash, brought in over $3.5 billion in revenue, a 2.3% drop from this time last year, when consumers were stockpiling such products amid the virus.
The company’s medical device business returned to growth after a drop in elective care and procedures during the pandemic brought four straight quarters of declines in 2020, BioPharma Dive reported. "We're very pleased with the 9% growth [in the medical device business],” Wolk said. “Because there's still some elective procedures across the globe that are on pause. But pharmaceuticals continues to lead the way.”
Another area of which Wolk is proud: J&J’s continued investment in innovation. From last year, its research and development investment has grown $600 million. Wolk credits this with the company’s strength, which he said is greater now than two years ago.
“We hope by making people aware [of the vaccine’s blood clot risk,] as well as putting clear diagnostic and therapeutic guidelines in place, that we can restore the confidence in our vaccine,” the company’s chief scientific officer, Dr. Paul Stoffels, told analysts.
“I hope the public will take a step back and say, ‘the process is working here,’” Wolk added. “We brought the issue to the FDA’s attention, and we want to make sure our analysis is thorough in understanding what caused these issues.”
Despite the optics of the pause, which may create vaccine hesitancy, Wolk believes the pause should provide renewed trust.
“We identified a situation that gave us reason for concern, we brought that to the FDA and to European regulators, we’re evaluating the data now, and I think we’re very much on track to have the pause remedied in next coming days,” Wolk told Yahoo Finance. “Our vaccine probably has the most robust data package around some of these newer variants. We are going to remediate what needs to be remediated.”
The company remains very confident, and is hopeful its benefit-risk profile will play out, Wolk told CNBC Tuesday. Adding J&J still expects to deliver 100 million doses in the first half of this year should the U.S. investigation on the blood-clot cases “go well.”
“I think it’s important to underscore that, with all our products, safety is of utmost importance, and we know regulators are motivated by that same ambition,” Wolk said. “We have strong conviction in our benefit/risk profile; it’s one shot, and it can provide a viable solution to many parts of the globe as we try to get vaccines in arms.”